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Anniston, Alabama To Censor Employees' Facebook Pages 338

Posted by timothy
from the article-summary dept.
ISurfTooMuch writes "If you're a city employee in Anniston, AL, you'd better watch what you say on Facebook. Under a proposal being considered by the City Council, employees would be banned from posting anything 'negative' or 'embarrassing' about the city. Note that they aren't talking about official city pages here, but employees' personal pages. Anyone care to educate these clowns on the existence of the First Amendment?"
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Anniston, Alabama To Censor Employees' Facebook Pages

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  • 1st A... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:05PM (#35096800)
    They're not passing a law, they're making rule of employment. You want a job with us, you don't badmouth us. That's perfectly reasonable, whether a private or public employer. If an employee doesn't like it, they can quit. It's that simple.
    • Re:1st A... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:10PM (#35096874)

      If I paid taxes in that town, I would be sort of pissed off that the town officials were spending time on something like this, so I wouldn't call it perfectly reasonable.

    • by iammani (1392285)

      Yeah, this is about workers rights, not 1st A.

      • by katz (36161)

        Actually, since states and cities' coffers are payed by citizens' taxes, their employees are public servants, and freedom of speech certainly does apply here.

        • No it doesn't, for 2 reasons:

          (1) A person in the United States enjoys the right of freedom of speech... but not a right to "freedom of speech without any consequences".

          (2) Government employees do not have "rights" that do not apply equally to everybody else.
          • I don't think your assertion holds water. The right to free speech and assembly are guaranteed. No matter who utters the speech, there are indeed consequences, but the consequences suffered by the government of the City of Anniston might be embarrassment, whistleblowing, and lots of speech that are quite protected. They're not a private employer, they're a public employer, and even government employees have personal lives, although certain parts of their speech can be constrained by federal law-- and are.

            Th

          • (1) A person in the United States enjoys the right of freedom of speech... but not a right to "freedom of speech without any consequences".

            Ah, I get it now! I can say what I like, but it is still free if I get imprisoned for it. Because the "free" in "free speech" is the same as in "free will".

            In other news, Jane Q. Public argues that atheism is a crime, because the first amendment only guarantees a freedom of religion, not the freedom to not have a religion.

          • (1) A person in the United States enjoys the right of freedom of speech... but not a right to "freedom of speech without any consequences".

            By that definition, even people in the People's Republic of China have freedom of speech.

    • by ZipK (1051658) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:11PM (#35096896)
      This is far from a settled issue; there's a lot of complicated case law [law.com] wending its way through the courts.
      • by pacergh (882705)

        Actually, it is more or less settled law. The question is the scope of when these restrictions can be applied. Also, labor contracts with unions may restrict this, as might internal state or city regulations. But as a pure matter of First Amendment law, it is settled. The question is whether regulatory law prevents it.

    • by isotope23 (210590)

      Or, the city could take the approach that anything they do is a matter of public record.....

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stormthirst (66538)

        Or, the city could take the approach that anything they do is a matter of public record.....

        Then they can pay me 24/7 instead of 8/5.

        • by isotope23 (210590)

          no you misunderstood. I mean anything the CITY does is public record and hence should be subject to scrutiny and criticism, especially by its employees.
          If the workplace sucks, then the citizens have a right to know that their city treats it's people like crap. If the city is doing something questionable by all means the employees should be able to post negative comments about it.

          We have an expectation that government is public and as such it should be held to a higher public standard.

          • I think we have to separate that and call it a separate issue. Badmouthing your employer is one thing; blowing the whistle on wrongdoing is quite another.
            • by causality (777677)

              I think we have to separate that and call it a separate issue. Badmouthing your employer is one thing; blowing the whistle on wrongdoing is quite another.

              There are lots of ways an employer can treat people like crap without actually breaking the law. In an open, honest system this is where public embarassment could accomplish what a lawsuit could not. That's where these otherwise separate issues converge.

              As a lover of freedom, I maintain that the peoples' right to know what their public servants are doing overrides the city government's desire to remove employees whose willingness to speak out makes it less convenient to be bureaucratic assholes. The g

        • Mod parent up.

          That is an issue should be brought up more often: if an employer wants to have control over what I do when I am not at the office, then the employer can damned well pay me for that time, too.
          • by causality (777677)

            Mod parent up. That is an issue should be brought up more often: if an employer wants to have control over what I do when I am not at the office, then the employer can damned well pay me for that time, too.

            The cynicism that remains within me says that this would only cause more hourly employees to be shifted to salary.

    • Re:1st A... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:13PM (#35096934)

      No, it isn't reasonable at all, not when you're a division of the government. The first amendment exists so that individuals can speak out against government acts with impunity - you can't be held accountable for speaking out against the government. By instituting this rule, they're essentially saying that the first amendment doesn't apply. Legally speaking, they have no right to do it, and morally speaking, it's abject in every sense of the word.

      Your employer has no right to censor your speech - period. Even less so when that employer is part of the government who's supposed to be upholding that right in the first place. Conflict of interest.

      • by rjstanford (69735)

        No, it isn't reasonable at all, not when you're a division of the government. The first amendment exists so that individuals can speak out against government acts with impunity - you can't be held accountable for speaking out against the government. By instituting this rule, they're essentially saying that the first amendment doesn't apply. Legally speaking, they have no right to do it, and morally speaking, it's abject in every sense of the word.

        Your employer has no right to censor your speech - period. Even less so when that employer is part of the government who's supposed to be upholding that right in the first place. Conflict of interest.

        That's right. They can't censor your speech.

        You also can't insist that they continue to employ you after you call them asshats. Free speech has consequences too, you see.

        • Re:1st A... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Goaway (82658) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:27PM (#35097218) Homepage

          In properly civilized countries, you can insist on just that.

          • by djp928 (516044)

            So you have a right to insist that someone keep you employed when they no longer wish to employ you? Awesome! I'm gonna use that to my advantage from now on. I'll never be out of work again!

            • by causality (777677)

              So you have a right to insist that someone keep you employed when they no longer wish to employ you? Awesome! I'm gonna use that to my advantage from now on. I'll never be out of work again!

              In some cases, yes. That's the basis of anti-discrimination lawsuits.

              Do you believe that an employer (especially gov't) should be able to choose to never hire black people? If not, then you have to acknowledge that there are valid reasons to insist on someone keeping you employed when they don't wish to employ you. The debate, then, is whether this is among those valid reasons.

              Your objection isn't the instant slam-dunk dismissal you seemed to have been hoping for. Those tend to be extremely overra

              • This is why: that is a straw-man argument. They are not the same things.

                One of those, the skin color thing, presumably does not damage or even affect the well-being of your company (or organization). The other does presumably damage the reputation of your company. So you can't compare the two. They are different situations.

                Now, one thing I have not seen discussed much here so far is whether the employee is saying true or false things. Or even just bitching for the hell of it. That does make a differen
          • Says who?

            If I hire someone to work for me, and that person is publicly badmouthing or debasing me, I reserve the right to fire that person.

            You claim that if I could not fire them, and had to pay them to continue working even though they are costing me customers, is actually more civilized?

            If so, I am glad I don't belong to the same civilization that you do.
            • by s73v3r (963317)

              It is. Because in that civilization, an employee does not have to live in fear that they will wind up on the street simply because they have a differing or unpopular opinion. The only acceptable reason to fire someone should be that they are not performing their job to satisfaction. That is it.

            • by causality (777677)

              If I hire someone to work for me, and that person is publicly badmouthing or debasing me, I reserve the right to fire that person.

              If you are talking about a private company, I fully agree with you. This should not apply to government, and I'll use your next line to explain why.

              You claim that if I could not fire them, and had to pay them to continue working even though they are costing me customers, is actually more civilized?

              Governments don't obtain their revenues from customers. Governments obtain the

              • I'm glad I am in a civilization that acknowledges reasons why government is not at all like a private company.

                I take it, then, that you do not live in the United States. There are plenty of politicians here who want to run the government more like a private company.

    • Re:1st A... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Port1080 (515567) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:14PM (#35096960) Homepage
      Actually, government employees do have more rights [umkc.edu] when it comes to speech (due to the 1st amendment) than private employees do. They can't just say any old thing, but if their criticism of their employer or the town is found by the court to be "of public concern" it could be considered protected speech. This law actually probably is unconstitutional, particularly if it's very broad (it could be written in a way that only banned non-protected speech, but my guess is they didn't think it through that well).
      • That is true of everybody, not just government employees.

        And it HAS to be that way, otherwise you run into issues with the Constitutional principle of equal treatment under the law.
    • Re:1st A... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by deapbluesea (1842210) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:14PM (#35096966)

      There's a major difference between a private employer and a government employer in terms of speech. IANAL, but this guy is:

      The First Amendment applies only to government employers, not to private employers. Government employers are prohibited from terminating employees as a result of their speech on matters of public concern, in most circumstances. However, if the employer can show that it was necessary to terminate the employee to preserve some legitimate employer interest, the termination may be upheld. Speech relating to matters that do not fall within the definition of 'public concern' may be used as a basis to terminate employees, even if the speech occurs on the employee's free time.

      As in all things, it's not as simple as /.ers think it is.

      • by pacergh (882705)

        Actually, it's even more complicated than this.

        It depends on the type of employee and the subject of the speech. Further, the larger scope of rights given to public employees are regulatory in nature, not constitutional (i.e. First Amendment based).

      • AND, what you don't point out is that others, and not just public employees, basically operate under the same rules. Whistleblower laws protect speech (and employees) who air matters of public concern. But they don't protect against things like insults or simply bitching about one's job.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      it is not reasonable and as a public employer it is indeed different. They are a government, with that comes special powers and special limitations.

      • Like what?

        Show me where anything says that public and private employees do not enjoy equal protection under the law... and I'll show you an unconstitutional law.
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      So, it's perfectly acceptable to tell someone "If you want to work for me, you're not allowed to tell anyone that I'm embezzling funds!"

      It's not quite that simple.
    • Re:1st A... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by base3 (539820) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:32PM (#35097322)
      Whatever. This policy brought to you by Anniston, Alabama 36202 [anniston.al.us] still sucks donkey balls. (Put that into your search engine and smoke it, you oppressive gits.)
    • No, I don't mean the Smirnoff joke meme.

      They're not passing a law, they're making rule of employment. You want a job with us, you don't badmouth us. That's perfectly reasonable, whether a private or public employer. If an employee doesn't like it, they can quit. It's that simple.

      So you're telling me that basically if the USSR or China or North Korea had made their censorship be just rules of employment, that would override any freedom of speech concerns? I mean, you couldn't even be employed other than by t

    • by b4upoo (166390)

      No, it is not reasonable. Picture a man working for a living that simply sweeps floors and cleans restrooms. Would you have him silenced because he says his employer sells a deadly product like tobacco? They buy his hours of sweeping and labor. They have no right or reason to expect loyalty designed to drive profits or success upward.
      All laws need to have a funnel effect that forces the criminal and the anti-social actors into

      • But those laws apply ONLY when the speech in question is in the public interest. It does not cover insults, libel, or just plain bitching.
    • by B'Trey (111263)

      They're not passing a law, they're making rule of employment. You want a job with us, you don't badmouth us. That's perfectly reasonable, whether a private or public employer. If an employee doesn't like it, they can quit. It's that simple.

      No, it isn't. They're a government entity, not a private entity and courts, including the SCotUS, have already ruled that public employers have limits to what rules they can enforce.

      http://www.workplacefairness.org/retaliationpublic [workplacefairness.org]

      Banning "anything negative or embarrassing" would include many things that are of "public concern" and be over the legally established lines of what public employers may do.

    • by Stregano (1285764)
      mod parent up. for real. I agree 100% (I was going to make my own thread about it, but you already started getting the ball rolling). If I bad mouthed my current job on FB, I could get fired (security all set to friend only+nobody from my work is on my friend's list) also helps. That is a big no-no today. If you have people you work with on your FB, shut your trap about it. It would be like having family on there and calling dead grandpa a "stupid, alcoholic loser". Yeah, that will not go over with t
    • by sjames (1099)

      Actually, no. Some rights are inalienable. That is, you cannot sign them away at all. Even if you do sign something, it is null and void.

      Further, government is further restrained exactly because the bargaining position against it is even more slanted than usual. They absolutely, positively cannot block your right as a citizen to engage in political speech or petition government for a redress of grievances.

      They will have to tread very carefully there not to cross the line between employer/employee and govern

    • by s73v3r (963317)

      I really don't see how its at all reasonable that an employer can have fuck all to say about what you do outside of work.

    • For private employment I would agree but for a public government job, you aren't just badmouthing your employee but your government and I don't think you should be forced to choose between your rights as an employee or as a citizen. Furthermore I want people critical of government in the government.

    • by nanospook (521118)
      But if I'm workking for a government I'm not working for a private company. I'm working for a the public! Right?
  • by purpledinoz (573045) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:11PM (#35096886)
    This reminds me of this story [wfsb.com], where a teacher who appeared on the Howard Stern show for a contest (ugliest guy and hottest wife) was fired for it. It seems that the state has no problem firing people they don't like.
  • by Moof123 (1292134) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:13PM (#35096942)

    You are free to say anything you want, and free to feel the consequences.

    Folks on the private side can get fired for not following a companies PR policies on even non-defamatory public comments (usually translated to mean that anything you say publicly about a company while employed there must be approved first). Public entities are a little different, and are covered by different laws, but the general rule stands that bad mouthing the hand that feeds you is not smart.

    Whistle blowing for real grievances, safety issues, and illegal acts are a different story, and it is unlikely that laws such as this preempt whistle blowing laws.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:14PM (#35096972) Journal

    It's generally understood that you don't badmouth your employer, even if you work for the government.

    ...as yourself, of course...

  • At-will employment [wikipedia.org]:

    "[A] doctrine of American law that defines an employment relationship in which either party can break the relationship with no liability, provided there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship and that the employer does not belong to a collective bargaining group (i.e., has not recognized a union). Under this legal doctrine:

    “any hiring is presumed to be "at will"; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals "for good cause, or ba

    • by Port1080 (515567)

      State employment laws would in this case be trumped by the federal constitution, since the employer is a government entity and the employee therefore has expanded rights to criticize his/her employer. If this were a private employer, you'd be correct, but in this case, it's irrelevant.

  • by Rivalz (1431453) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:22PM (#35097132)

    I think its about time city officials officially get paid to browse facebook during business hours.
    Now if they could just find some reason to keep their farmville farms in top shape while monitoring other city workers crops.

  • Son of a bitch (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vyse of Arcadia (1220278) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:28PM (#35097226)
    It's never a good thing to see my home state on Slashdot, let alone my home town.

    I have to say, I don't like this policy. One is not generally supposed to badmouth one's employer, but badmouthing one's government is patriotic and should be encouraged. That's how things get fixed.
  • Consequences (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bobfrankly1 (1043848) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:31PM (#35097284)

    Anyone care to educate these clowns on the existence of the First Amendment?

    First Amendment allows you can say whatever you like, with few exceptions. It does not, however, protect you from being responsible for the consequences of what you said. If you are badmouthing your employer on a publicly visible page with your name attached, you are committing career suicide, regardless of your employer. They can either get rid of you, or make it miserable for you to maintain your employment. If you must vent, do it offline, or privatize your page and be sure you don't have co-workers as "friends". That's being responsible, and shielding yourself from these consequences so many forget about.

  • and this place sucks a seriously huge bag of dicks. Wait, they only monitor facebook right?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      and this place sucks a seriously huge bag of dicks.
      Wait, they only monitor facebook right?

      I live in this town too, As if we don't have enough problems with people around here going hungry an looking for work that will never come, now we have to waste our time an effort on facebook an what a employee does in his off time. I live right on one of the main streets in town an I see homeless people that are facing starvation an frostbite on a daily basis. I tried to call mayor gene robinson, but he's dodging his phone like a plague. I think everyone that feels this is the stupidest thing you've seen i

  • by anyGould (1295481) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:35PM (#35097376)

    .. they'll never actually fire someone for badmouthing the city - they'll just terminate your employment.

    I'll never understand why people thought giving companies the ability to fire for "no" reason was a good thing - all it does is let them fire you for *any* reason (legal or not)

    • by Burdell (228580)

      You are free to quit your job for any reason (or for no reason), so why shouldn't the company have an equal right to terminate your employment?

      • by TheSpoom (715771)

        Because the company is almost always on much stronger footing than the employee.

        That's why there are labour laws. That's why not everyone agrees with the at-will doctrine, including most or all Canadian provinces.

      • That would be a meaningful argument if my leaving the company would damage it to a comparable degree that being fired would damage me. Employees where that is the case are almost always under contract anyway. For the rest of the employees your point is horseshit.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @06:39PM (#35097426)
    Somebody explain to me again how Facebook guarantees the name you sign up for a Facebook account with is your real name and is traceable to your employer. Because you know, anybody stupid enough to use their real name when criticizing their employer probably should be fired for having bad judgement!
  • Anyone care to educate these clowns on the existence of the First Amendment?"

    Physician: heal thyself.

  • Jennifer. But somehow it didn't match up with Alabama. Besides why is she reading my FB anyway? /tinfoil

  • I've never been there, but I'm sure Anniston, Alabama is a dump.

    There. Now, since I'm not an Anniston, Alabama employee, all sides should be happy.
  • by Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) on Thursday February 03, 2011 @07:39PM (#35098188)

    It was slightly farcical. We argued that it was nothing defamatory and fair commentary. The next day, the entire department posted 'Company X's Media Policy is a joke' as their status.

    Of course, if they tried to monitor Slashdot comments, the entire IT department where I work is going to be looking for a job on Monday.

  • Oh, and another thought. I think it is amazing that we have gone so far down the PC (political correctness) trail that somewhere along the way we forgot how to listen, argue (as in illustrating a point), and resolve issues. Anymore it is a competition of who has the biggest equipment, who is paying the bills, who your friends are, or what organization you belong to. Management (the City in this case) should listen, the employee(s) should be encouraged to argue their grievance, more listening and then a m
  • Send all your embarrassing and negative info about the city government to Wikileaks or Openleaks.
  • If you think government employees can't get fired for talking smack about there employer go ask someone in the armed forces what happens to them if they call their boss an ass hat. No free speech issue here it's pretty much a standard clause in any employment contract.

    The real question may be legally is Facebook public or private. There's a lot of grey area there.

  • And rather than deal with the fallout of admitting and fixing whatever the cause of the negative comment was, the City Council would rather make sure no one with direct knowledge can talk about it.

    Probably something to do with someone paying someone else they're also exchanging bodily fluids with, is my guess.

    All conjecture that I can engage in because I'm not talking about where I work...God help us if the companies keep merging until they're all one company and no one can talk shit about their emplo
  • by dgun (1056422) on Friday February 04, 2011 @10:19AM (#35103010) Homepage

    I live just outside of Anniston. The local paper. the Anniston Star, runs stories on the city council several times a week. It's awesome entertainment, Believe me when I say that the Anniston city council is a complete joke. One of the council members stated that the reason they want to trample on the first amendment rights of their employees (and understand that this is just not about posting on Facebook at work) is that comments made on Facebook could embarrass the city. Which is completely ridiculous considering the City council has been the #1 source of embarrassment for the city for a couple of years now. The last couple of months they have been conducting an "inquiry" at tremendous expense, apparently on the general subject of "bad stuff" that's going on at the city, But it's really about the ego of one council member who was not happy at the results of an investigation conducted by the police department and who was also attempting to punish a police officer who criticised the council member on Facebook, as well as take revenge on a judge who ruled against him.

    The mayor and the various council members fight and argue like school children continuously. One of the council members files multiple law suits based on idiotic grounds. In their "inquiry" they have issued subpoena after subpoena, many of which are quashed because they're so damn ridiculous. This latest issues regarding Facebook is just one in a long list of laughable shenanigans perpetrated by the council. Honestly, a reality show based on these people would be awesome and would be the one reality show I would watch. You wouldn't even have to edit anything, just broadcast the council meetings live on Comedy Central. The truth is far more hilarious and amusing than any group of video editors could conjure,

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